Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose: Motivation For Your IT Staff

A recent email got my attention. It highlighted a blog post on the MIT Technology Review website about a video from RSA Animate (copied below) illustrating a lecture by Dan Pink (@danielpink on Twitter): "The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us," based on his book of the same name.

What got my attention? We need to stop rewarding with a carrot and threatening with a stick. The video highlights multiple research findings that suggest knowledge workers are more motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose than by financial reward. Pink suggests that financial incentives may actually have a detrimental impact on performance under certain circumstances.  (The research suggests money is a motivator for purely mechanical tasks but as soon as some level of cognitive processing is required to complete the task, money is secondary to other factors.)

I have to say this was a little hard to swallow at first. But then I almost missed a key point: this is only true when minimum financial rewards are met, i.e. when employees are paid a large enough base salary, financial incentives to deliver high performance may be detrimental when compared to other motivators such as the desire for: autonomy, mastery of skills, and a sense of purpose.

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Put Your IT Staff Through Sales Training

I was recently asked about the importance of selling skills for CIOs - does a CIO need to be a good salesperson? It seems to me the answer to this should be a resounding yes. After all, IT executives need to be able to sell themselves effectively in order to attain the heights of the C-Suite. Great CIOs must be great communicators, capable of delivering a compelling presentation or a memorable speech, and inspiring others to follow them.

But what of sales skills beyond being a good presenter? Since many sales skills are focused on understanding people and connecting with them, I've found sales training to be highly effective on two levels:

  • Developing better listening skills. One of the first things you learn as a salesperson is not how to make a pitch, but how to listen to a customer - only by listening can a good salesperson effectively satisfy the needs of a prospect/customer.
  • Understanding how products/services meet the customer needs. Salespeople spend a lot of time learning about a firm's products and services; they learn how they meet the various customer needs and they learn how to present them in the best light.
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